Our Park Building Heritage

The other day I had some time to kill until the next #20 bus was scheduled so I wandered across the Commons to examine the new Pavilion at the Reddy Kilowatt skating oval.


There really needed to be a permanent structure for the Zamboni and skate storage and washrooms and warming. The Pavilion designed by DSRA Architects seems to fit the bill (I’m not a skater so tell me if I’m wrong). It must have been a challenge to design a structure for the Commons that was interesting without being too interesting .


The Pavillion’s asymmetry, wood ceiling, and retro vibe are of this moment.  This got me thinking about some of the other buildings associated with our parks that speak of the times they were constructed.

In Shubie Park is the substantial Fairbanks Centre of the Canal  Commission. I couldn’t find the architect or building date but do remember that it felt smart and contemporary when it was built (about 1990?). Many postmodern-style buildings are looking silly now (they need to age a little longer) but I think the Fairbanks Centre is holding up quite well.


From some angles it feels Italian, in a nice way.


The backside of the building is a cautionary tale of what can happen when, over time, new enthusiasms trump design control.


A striking example of the city rescuing one of its Park buildings from the brink is the Gardener’s Lodge for the Public Gardens. This was built in 1902 as the residence for the Gardens’ Superintendent and has just undergone exquisite exterior restoration.


Stop and marvel at the new copper work, the joyful Flemish gables and surprising details like the triangular window bay.  James Charles Dumaresq was the architect.

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Six years earlier, in 1896, the Dumaresq office designed another park building, the Superintendent’s Lodge at Point Pleasant Park. Generations of children visiting the park have imagined this to be a perfect playhouse. The spaces inside are tiny, just right for today’s small house enthusiasts.



In a twist that I cannot unpack, our lodge is a replica of one at the entrance to the English country house of Benjamiin Disraeli, the former British Prime Minister. His had been built over 20 years before.


The Lodge at Hughenden. From the Internet.

The residences for the superintendents of the Gardens and Point Pleasant were part of a British tradition of having a picturesque gatehouse at the entrance to a country estate.  For another example look at the gatehouse for the Cunard estate, Oaklands, at the east end of Oakland Road.

The oldest park building in this little collection is Horticultural Hall in the Public Gardens, built in 1847 and designed by James Irons. It was intended as a meeting space and a place to put on gardening demonstrations, much as it is used today, with the addition of fancy coffee and ice cream.


While I lick my ice cream cone I like to look up and admire the roof trusses and the cupola.


A fun little collection of buildings, don’t you think?  It suggests a tradition of commissioning thoughtful design over nearly 170 years. Just as importantly, the city has found the will and resources to restore and maintain the three oldest buildings. How do you think the new skating Pavilion will fare 100 years from now?


The Skating Oval Pavilion’s long, low silhouette and gentle gull wing roof-line feels familiar. As 1960s references I offer the old Shell gas station at the corner of Robie and North which has been totally reworked since these photos;



And the tiny perfect vestibule to the gym at the Dalhousie School of Engineering on Barrington Street. A special favourite of mine.

December 201223

About the author

Stephen Archibald

It’s Stephen Archibald doing the noticing. I’m a huge fan of Nova Scotia’s material culture and cultural landscapes. Twitter (@Cove17 ) made me realize I could share what attracted my attention (perfect for my very short attention) and I’m gratified when folks enjoy my content. Pleased to meet you on the internet.